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Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age Of Rock (1969) - Chapters 20-23
20 P. J. Proby (page 196)
The first time I met P. J. Proby, he was at his peak. He had been in England for about a year and, immediately, he had cleaned up, he’d established himself as the most mesmeric stage act we’d seen. So he was the biggest solo star around then but he was also one long streak of trouble and he was always neck deep in hassles. He was intuitive, fast, hysterical, paranoid, generous, very funny, hugely imaginative, original, self-obsessed, self-destructive, often impossible, just about irresistible and much more besides. Truly, he was complicated.
I went to sec him and he was sitting in a darkened hotel room, downing bourbon and coke by the tumblerful. He was wearing a grubby string vest, old white socks and navy-blue knickers. And he was tired, his hair hung all unkempt around his shoulders and his eyes were red, his face was swollen with lost sleep. He looked quite defeated.
When I first came in, he said nothing but only handed me a scrap of paper, covered in ragged, semi-illegible handwriting. ‘That’s my testament,’ said Proby. 'Read it.’
On inspection, it turned out to be something like a petition. Crudely paraphrased, it said that, ever since Proby had been in this country, he had been systematically hounded by enemies and fools. His name had been blackened, his life made not worth living, his career half-wrecked. Promoters, record companies and agents had conspired together to bring him down and break him. Until he had finally had enough and now he’d decided to expose them all. Near the end, in a crucial phrase, he said: I am an artist and should be exempt from shit.’
All the curtains were drawn tight and the hotel room was full of people, Proby’s hairdresser and assistant and publicists, his friends. Great image: Proby himself just brooded, said nothing, and everyone else watched him.
Very suddenly, Proby began to talk to me and then didn't stop for maybe two hours. He told me many things, all about his life and his soul and his many agonies, and he made everything epic, everything wild and somehow magnificent. The way he told it, his life was a composite of Jesus Christ, Judy Garland and Errol Flynn.
According to the saga, he was bom in Texas, real name James Marcus Smith, and his father had been a very rich man, a much respected citizen. And his earliest years were filled with happiness, but it didn’t last; he was sent away to military college, which trained and disciplined him to be a man, and then he changed his name to Jet Powers, became a singer and went west to Hollywood. He wrote songs and hustled. Waited for breaks to happen and, around this time, he got married. So he and his young bride used to sit in their window when the evening came, looking down into the street below, and they’d dream about the way it’d be when he finally made it, when his name was big in lights. That’s exactly the way that Proby told it: young love, first love, filled with deep devotion.
Later, some of his songs were made into hits and he moved up. He was a Hollywood face. And Jack Good planned to stage a musical of Othello, Proby playing Iago to Muhammed Ali’s Moor. That was really something.
But then, just as the time of his ultimate triumph was approaching, he quarrelled with his true love, and he was all capsized again. He came to England and, of course, he became a superstar but he wasn’t happy, he never could be. He was hollow inside.
Picture him: a man crucified, a genius destroyed, a beautiful animal caged - he told me all of that, and, when he was finished, he lapsed into silence and stared at the floor, drank more bourbon. Finally, he raised his head, looked at me, and he flashed me his first smile. Pure malice. ‘How’s that?’ he said. ‘Did I break your fucking heart?’
(Being halfway honest for once, I have to say that there are many people around who’ll tell you entirely different versions of the Proby trauma and they’ll all swear blind that theirs is the only right one. Myself, I’d say that mine is as possible as any other and I stick by it.)
At any rate, I was just eighteen when Proby hit me with this and I was never so impressed by anything in my life. The darkened room, the bourbon, the knickers, the fat Texan drawl - this was true heroism and it made me shake. I never grew out of it cither. At first sight, Proby was installed as my ultimate pop obsession, my real idol, and he’s stayed that way ever since.
On stage, he was magnificent.
He’d stand behind a curtain and extend one toe and all his little girls screamed. Then he’d draw it back again, then he’d extend it again, then he’d draw it back again. This might continue for five full minutes, getting slightly bolder, even flashing his ankle, and then he’d suddenly bound out like some puppy St Bernard. He wore blue velvet all over, loose jerkin to hide his paunch and skintight pants, and he had his hair tied back in a bow, and he wore buckled shoes, and he was camp as hell. Simply, he was outrageous.
He’d stand quite still and then he’d turn around, he’d mince across the stage like some impossible drag-queen and then he’d stop dead again, he’d grind his groin like a really filthy burlesque stripper, and then he’d flounce across to the wings like an overweight ballet dancer, and then he’d come back all coy and demure like a small ribboned girl, and then he’d snarl, and then he’d pout, and then he’d start the whole thing over again. He’d sing a ballad and he’d agonize, he’d raise one hand, he’d let fall an invisible rose. Or he’d sing soul and he’d scream, grind, go berserk. Then he’d make a monologue and he’d explain how he was mistreated, conspired against, and how his only friends in the world were his fans, his little girls. Then he’d be camp again and he’d flaunt one hand on his hip and his lashes fluttered like fans. Well, it could all have been horribly embarrassing, it very nearly was, but he had a great voice, he owned real presence and somehow he brazened it out. The way he explained it, he’d taken all his movements, all his faces from different girls. You could well believe it. Whatever, he kept going for a full hour and he screamed himself voiceless, he sweated till he was slimy all over like a toad, till he was quite hideous, and still he piled on intensity, agony, outrage. ‘Am I clean?’ he’d squeal. ‘Am I clean? Am I spotless ? Am I pure ? ’
When he was done, when he’d quite destroyed himself, he’d stagger off blindly into the wings and collapse, semi-conscious, in his dressing-room. He’d just lie there for maybe twenty minutes without moving. Then Proby would rise up refreshed and he’d bound out through the stagedoor and into his waiting limousine, surrounded and protected at all times by his entourage, and then the whole circus would roll back to London.
Wild camp, marvellous image: P. J. Proby lay back exhausted in his cushions, the Sun King, his hair like drenched rope, his mouth full of bourbon, and everyone entertained him. No medieval warlord ever had it better.
With all this, he was talented. Specifically, he had giant range, perfect control and he was a flawless mimic, he could turn himself into anyone from Billy Eckstine to Frankie Valli, Gene Pitney to James Brown. And he was a voice. As a straight ballad singer, he entirely outclassed Sinatra or Tony Bennett or any of them, but he’d distort his diction, exaggerate, melodramatize until the whole thing turned into a subtle burlesque of the original slop.
On songs like My Prayer or When I Fall In Love, he’d be so almost straight that you’d really be fooled and then, just when you’d be nicely lulled, he’d slip in something sneaky and capsize you. Always it was neatly done, never crude. So his version of Somewhere and / Apologize and If I Loved You were strange little classics, almost surreal, and their great flavour was that you never knew just how you were meant to take them.
Anyhow, soon after that first time I met him, things started going very wrong indeed. Somewhere made number three and he landed his first headlining cinema tour, always a major milestone but, on the first night, he split his velvet trousers from knee to crotch. On the second night, he did exactly the same. On the third night, he did it one time too often, and the curtain came down and he was flung off the tour, widely banned, hammered by the press, much insulted by the industry and enthusiastically kicked in the teeth by almost everyone.
This was disaster: he did have other hits, he did hang on but he was cut off from the most crucial outlets and he got progressively cornered. More, he was never forgiven.
Even then he never walked small.
The thinking was always simple - Proby was a face, a Hollywood star, and he lived like one. He owed it, not only to himself, but to his fans and, most vital, to his image. At any rate, that’s the way he figured it and, accordingly, he kept up a large house in Chelsea and supported an entourage and spent fortunes in discotheques and hired twenty-piece P. J. Proby Orchestras to back him.
He went to America for a year, tried raising horses, failed, and came back to London. This was early 1968 and, by now, he was officially bankrupt but he smiled smiles, looked angelic and said most solemnly that he was an entirely reformed character. On his first comeback gig, he was heckled. Immediately, he exploded in a rash of four-letter words and the curtain came down. And everyone was happy - nothing had changed.
Whatever else, he has proved himself resilient. His greatest gift has been that he’s always been able to convince everyone around him, myself included, that he was a genius. And just so long as that gift survives, he can’t ever be written off and he can’t ever starve. He can always find someone to pay his bills and love him and launch him one more time.
Well, I suppose I’ve given him more space than he deserves and, really, I have no justifications except that I dig him so much. Along with Muhammad Ali, he is the great doomed romantic showman of our time, the Rasputin or Hearst or Jelly Roll Morton, and I’m left with two central images of him.
The first is a portrait of him (the work, he once told me, of ‘an Italian old master’) and it shows him all in velvet, angelic-faced, walking on the clouds.
The second is him recording his entry for a San Remo festival and the Italian composer has flown over to supervise. The Italian is a caricature composer, all twirled moustachios and rapturous eyes, and Proby, who isn’t entirely sober, is a classic Proby figure, all stubble and blear. And they’re standing alone in the middle of a vast studio floor and Proby is singing. He doesn’t know a word of Italian, he has no idea what he’s saying, and still he spreads his arms, throws his head way back and soars. He’d break your heart. Such pain, such yearning, such terrible passion - the composer has never heard anything like it and he’s drooling.
At the end of the take, the Italian flings his arms full round Proby’s neck and hugs him. Proby beams. ‘Mr Proby,’ says the composer.
‘Maestro,' says Proby. ‘I don’t do. I am.’
21 America After The Beatles: Anglophilia, Bacharach and Folk/Rock (page 202)
If the Beatles meant a lot in England, they meant very much more in America.
They changed everything. They happened at a time when American pop was bossed by trash, by dance crazes and slop ballads, and they let all of that bad air out. They were foreign, they talked strange. They played harsh, unsickly, and they weren’t phoney. Just as they’d done in England, they brought back reality.
Beyond that, they happened at a time when the whole of American teenage life was bogged down, when there was an urgent need for new leaders and, along with Bob Dylan, that’s just what they became.
Because they weren’t fake or computerized themselves, they brought it home exacdy how conformist America had really become, they woke people up, they crystallized all kinds of vague discontents. They didn’t sermonize, they didn’t have to. Just by existing, they played a major part in turning dissent from an intellectual left-wing indulgence into something that involved maybe thirty per cent of all American teens.
Still, that’s roughly what they’d done in England, too, so how come they meant much more in America? Mostly, it was a question of scale.
In England, after all, teenage rebellion had always been something quite amiable and formalized. It starts fashions, sells records, makes fun for the people but it doesn’t change much, it causes no revolutions. Over the years, it moves things very gently along, but, come right down to it, England simply isn’t ugly enough to make white kids feel passionate.
But in America, in the sixties, teen dissent has become something more than fashionable. On the whole, it’s about real diseases, real social insanities, and it may end up making changes. And, because they’re influential in all this, the Beatles have become more than they’ll ever be here, they’ve gone beyond entertainment and they’ve turned into serious social influences, they matter.
At a less exalted level, when they first broke through, they stirred a hysterical cult for all things British, a fad that’s only just dying down now.
This was simple: one look at the Beatles, long hair and scouse accents, big mouths and all, and America decided that something strange must be going on here, that London must be some kind of continuous space-age funfair, one endless parade of boutiques and discotheques and hip trattorias, Carnaby Streets and King’s Roads.
Immediately, England became the epitome of everything elegant, enlightened, deeply switched-on, and its exports became automatic triumphs.
English pop had it fat in there and most everyone cleaned up - the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, Manfred Mann, Donovan, Dusty Springfield. And not only pop but actors, designers, hair stylists, models - Julie Christie, Mary Quant, Vidal Sassoon, Michael Caine and, climactically, Twiggy.
Two groups, in particular, made it much bigger in the States than they’d ever done at home - the Dave Clark Five and Herman’s Hermits.
Dave Clark had been a film extra and he was handsome, he had smooth skin and white teeth and a dazzling smile, he was clean-cut as hell. He played a bit of drums and he formed his own semi-professional group around Tottenham.
After a time, they made records, very crude and chaotic but quite danceable, and soon they had a number one hit, Glad All Over. They had no pretensions to musical class, they were only basic noise-machines and, predictably, after they’d lost their first impetus, they found the going erratic here.
When they got to America, though, Dave Clark smiled just once, flashed those perfect teeth of his, and they were made. For two years, they were hardly ever gone from the American charts and, every time they wavered, Clark only flashed his smile one time and they went right back on top again.
The odd thing was, he had no manager. He was advised by Harold Davidson, his agent, but nobody controlled him ever, nobody made his decisions for him. All on his own, he’d realized his potential and he’d pursued it, he’d grabbed everything possible. And it was really quite an impressive thing, any young boy being so sure of himself that he could set up as a million-dollar industry and not be conned, not stumble for a second. It was almost indecent.
Herman’s Hermits were another strike for Mickie Most.
Herman himself was really called Peter Noone and he was a very young, very innocent-looking boy from Manchester. He had buck teeth and dimples, he looked about twelve years old, and he’d sometimes stick his finger in his mouth as he sang.
America being as matriarchal as it is, such little boy antics could hardly miss and they didn’t. Mickie Most, who knows where the money is and has always concentrated on America more than anywhere, handed him one hit song after another and Herman came to be bigger even than Dave Clark.
Throughout this British invasion, the American scene stood stock still. It grew its hair long, produced a few half-hearted imitations of the Beatles, and left it at that. For one year, the English ruled unchallenged.
Outside of Berry Gordy’s Tamla Motown, the only American who was thriving was Burt Bacharach.
Bacharach was a Hollywood writer/arranger, a smooth man, already in his thirties, and he was musical director for Marlene Dietrich. He’d been quietly making it for years but now, in partnership with lyricist Hal David, he began to churn out hits in clusters.
His stuff didn’t vary much. Always, it was tasteful, attractive, a bit gutless. Seemingly, he could turn out hit songs almost at will, complex melody lines and cute backings, full of cellos and French horns and so forth and, taken one at a time, they were very pretty music but, when you heard them at length, they sounded limp.
His successes were endless - Walk On By, Anyone Who Had A Heart, I Say A Little Prayer, Always Something There To Remind Me, Do You Know The Way To San Jose? - and he won awards, wrote film themes and got called a genius by lady singers in skin-tight sequined dresses and men singers in toupees, by the showbiz establishment in general.
Most of his best songs went to Dionne Warwick, a lantern- jawed Negress with a fast voice and perfect control. She interpreted him just right, she was smooth and tricksy, quite flawless and quite empty. Very musical, she was, and entirely emotionless. Between them, she and Bacharach brought musak to its highest point ever.
Roughly in the same bag, a bit later, there was Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass, who sold more albums through the mid-sixties than anyone outside the Beatles.
Alpert himself was a very lean and beautiful-looking man, a true matinee idol, and he played trumpet pretty for the people. Mostly, his music was mock-Spanish, staccato and quite delicate, and each new record of his sounded just like the one before. In terms of content, he simply didn’t exist. He was harmless, that’s all, and he sold.
When the American comeback did finally happen, though, neither Bacharach nor Alpert had much to do with it. Instead, the breakthrough came with folk/rock, which was exactly what its name suggested, a grafting of serious folk lyrics on to a basic hardrock beat, and which exploded commercially early in 1965.
In immediate terms, folk/rock was fired by Bob Dylan and the Beatles but its roots reached back into the middle fifties.
At that time, the folk scene had been split into two very distinct camps. On one side, there were the ethnics and, on the other, there were the commercials and, between them, there was a seemingly unbridgeable gulf. Simply, they made no contact.
The ethnics were people like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and the material they used was part traditional, part self-composed. They were mostly middle-aged, unglamorous, strictly non-showbiz. Almost always, they were left-wing and showed it in their music and, for all these reasons, their age and their politics and their basic seriousness, they didn’t have hits but they commanded a steady following and sold albums and didn’t starve.
As for the commercials, they were folkniks, they were fakers and their basic routine was to take ethnic material and castrate it, swamp it in marshmallow. Beaming all over their toothpaste faces, the Kingston Trio would dig up some old warhorse like Tom Dooley, full of stabbings and hangings, and turn it into a Shirley Temple nursery rhyme.
Approximately, folkniks were equivalent to highschool and they didn’t mean anything. Just occasionally, though, they’d look soulful and attempt something portentous, something like Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, bedraggled gestures at significance.
Rather surprisingly, these solemnities sold a lot of records. Simply, they had snob appeal - kids who thought themselves above Fabian or Frankie Avalon could buy folk and feel all smooth inside.
This move to seriousness hit its peak with the emergence of Peter, Paul and Mary, who bossed commercial folk right through the early sixties and had whole strings of hits with stuff that was sometimes very earnest indeed. And, all right, so they were less than anarchic - their sound was gutless, their looks antiseptic, and they were capable of Puff The Magic Dragon, one of the true monstrosities of pop history - but they were still a step forward from the Kingston Trio, at least they tried.
In particular, they provided a link between hardline folk and the public in general: they pushed unknown writers, used quite tough material, even peddled politics but they were always so limp that no Ed Sullivan himself could have been offended.
In this way, they got away with stuff that would have got most people deep into trouble. For instance, they did Dylan’s Blowing In The Wind when Dylan himself was still very much an underground cult and no anti-war song had ever made the charts before but they so deballscd it as to make it almost meaningless and it became a hit. Musically, of course, this might have been sacrilegious but at least it gave Dylan an introduction, it got his name through to a mass pop public and, when he came out in person, people were ready for him.
At the same time that Peter, Paul and Mary were emerging in commercial folk, a whole new generation had been coming through at a more serious level. Dylan was the most crucial of these, of course, but there were others, Phil Ochs and Joan Baez and Tom Paxton, Tim Hardin and Dave Van Ronk, BufFy St Marie and Tom Rush and Judy Collins. Most of them, they were post-Beats: they wrote poems and wore blue jeans and hung around Boston or the West Village, dug Allen Ginsberg and thought that America was sick, smoked pot. And they were passionately political, they had a raw intensity that had been missing in folk for decades and that's how they broke through, that’s how they reached a teenage audience that would normally have put folk down, thinking it tired and backdated.
So Dylan happened and, behind him, Baez and Ochs and Tim Hardin and, between them, they shut the folkniks down. At last, after ten slow years of education, the pop public was ready to take its medicine neat and fakers became obsolete. Quietly, they slid away to Las Vegas and plugged in to the middle-aged circuit, where they clapped hands and cavorted and sang fifty choruses of If I Had A Hammer nightly.
Meanwhile, folk proper got very big indeed - it was the perfect antidote to highschool and the manifold mindlessness that had bossed the American charts these last years, it was articulate and raw and romantic, and it made its audience feel cool just to dig it.
The way that it most affected teenage music, though, was that it made lyrics count. For the first time, words became as important as melody and groups like the Beatles or Stones, who’d started out just as sounds, quit talking in slogans and began to write real lines.
So far, the influence was all one-way: pop groups heard Dylan and were put through changes by him. But then, when groups began to write songs that meant something and smashed them out over a gutrot rock beat, the process was somewhat reversed - folk singers, who’d always thought that rock was crapola by definition, found themselves hooked on the Beatles and they hired backing groups, stoked up a beat behind them and turned electric. So rock moved towards folk, folk moved towards rock and, where they met, what else, that got called folk/rock.
The first group to bring folk/rock through as a solid concept were the Byrds, who came from California and had themselves a worldwide number one hit with Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man.
They had image: they were, in fact, the first really outrageous group in America, long-haired and arrogant and mean, and their stance was classic West Coast cool, meaning that they were deadpan and remote, that they thought it was sinful to be fun.
Jim McGuinn, their lead singer, wore pince-nez and smiled strange crooked smiles over the top of them, squinting like some moth-eaten Dickensian lawyer, very devious, and the rest of the group slouched in the background, staring straight ahead, stoned and uncaring, and none of them gave off any warmth, any signs of life at all.
Musically, though, they started out strong - Mr Tambourine Man was brilliant and their first album was even better. They made odd insidious noises, quite soft but sneaky, sinister, and McGuinn phrased sideways like a musical crab. They weren’t exciting, they weren’t meant to be but their sound crept in on you and nagged you, they made you itch.
Above all, they made no concessions, they went as far beyond Peter, Paul and Mary as PP&M themselves had gone beyond the Kingston Trio, and they shaped up like something really big, they looked as if they might make the same league as the Beatles and Stones.
It didn’t happen, that’s all - a series of ego wars broke out inside the group, and all that good energy got wasted. Then there was a tour of England, a few singles, a rash of personnel changes, umpteen changes of policy.
At the time of writing, the Byrds are a trio and play mostly country. In six months, it’s a safe bet they’ll be something entirely else *
*In retrospect, I haven’t been quite fair to the Byrds - they did a marvellous C & W album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, that I should have spotted earlier.
Back East, very much the same thing happened to the Lovin’ Spoonful, who were even better, who were quite the best group in folk/rock but who wasted themselves just as badly as the Byrds.
They were built around John Sebastian, who sang and blew mouth-harp and wrote songs, and he was people. He wore small round glasses and looked like a sleepy John Lennon, he smiled very gentle and wrote the laziest songs you ever heard. Musically, he had his roots in the country blues and Nashville C&W and the Memphis jug bands, in Fats Waller and Rambling Jack Elliott and any kind of good-time music he came across, and his lyrics were splendid, his melody lines curled up and purred like so many drowsy cats.
Younger Girl, Do You Believe In Magic, Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?, Daydream, Summer In The City - they were beautiful, all of them, and he wrote one line in particular that I loved: ‘It’s like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll.’*
*Words of Do You Believe In Magic © 1965 Faithful Virtue Music Co. Inc., New York. All rights reserved.
Always and always, the Spoonful was fun: Zal Yanovsky, who played guitar, lunaticked around like something from the Marx Brothers, a cross between Groucho and Harpo, and Sebastian’s glasses teetered on the end of his nose and everything was mellow, everyone got stoned.
If they’d only gone on like they started, they’d have been monsters but Sebastian and Yanovsky, who’d put the group together, fell out and so pulled it all to pieces. There were a couple of bad singles, where laziness degenerated into total inertia, and then Yanovsky quit, Sebastian did nothing interesting and the Spoonful subsided.
For a long time, records were still issued and Sebastian did some lovely things - Money, Shes Still A a Mystery - but he didn’t get big hits with them and the Spoonful, just like the Byrds, were sunk. Finally, they broke up altogether and Sebastian is now a single.
Whatever their failures, though, both the Byrds and the Spoonful were at least originals. They used a lot of influences, whether Dylan or Hank Williams, the Beatles or Gus Cannon, but they wound up with a flavour of their own, they weren’t ever bowdierizers. The same thing couldn’t be said of Sonny and Cher.
Sonny was Sonny Bono and he’d worked with Phil Spector, he was an established writer/producer and Cher was his wife. And the way he made it, he took the messages of Bob Dylan and cut any stuff in them about wars and ghettocs and sick Americas, any foolings with pain and waste and death. Then he picked up what remained, called it Protest and turned it into very big hit records. Him and Cher, they grew their hair long and dressed like teenybop tramps, they looked outrageous and this was meant to pass for dissent, this was the soulcry of an oppressed generation.
Commercially, it was perfect format - kids who felt rebellious but found Dylan too heavy, who wanted to smash a few windows without having to wade through all that poetry and paradox and philosophic discussion, thought that Sonny and Cher were truly peachy-keen and made them the hottest new act of 1965.
Throughout the summer, Sonny and Cher swamped the charts two or three at a time and I Got You Babe was a monster, all about how everyone put them down for their long hair and their clothes and their general freakishness but at least they had each other, their love was true and nothing could pull them apart, hi other words, the oldest and corniest routine in showbiz. Under all the hair and hype, Sonny and Cher emerged as pop-age answers to Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.
Predictably, they had a fat six months and then they began to die. Sonny Bono had one shrewd head, however, and he came up with savers. As soon as the going got tough, he put Protest behind him and dived back fast into straight pop. Next, he put himself in the background and concentrated on Cher, who could sing and who looked good, half-Indian with great sloe eyes and wild hair hanging halfway down her back. And finally, he came through with natural hit songs, maudlin flowerpots that couldn’t miss - Bang Bangy Youd Better Sit Down Kids and, campcst of all, Mama (When My Dollies Have Babies).
In the end, inevitably, the datedness of their image did them in and the hits dried up, but, by that time, they had a mansion in Bel Air, they could afford not to give a damn.
If Sonny turned protest into vaudeville, however, Lou Adler’s Dunhill label built it into a full-scale industry.
Adler, as I mentioned earlier, is one smooth operator and he rode folk/rock hard. In the past, what with Johnny Rivers and Jan and Dean, he’d been less than famous as an idealist but now, with dissent suddenly selling in millions, he revealed himself as a true believer and became a one-man protest factory.
In particular, he set a song-writer called P. F. Sloan to churning out searing indictments of society at a rate of roughly one a week and, together, they were responsible for Eve of Destruction, a round-ticket diatribe against everything. This was sung by Barry McGuire, an ex-New Christy Minstrel, and became a worldwide smash.
Adler’s most successful folk/rock act, though, were the Mamas and the Papas, all of whom had hung around the West Village and sung in various folk groups and played bohemians.
One by one, they were John Phillips, who wrote their songs, and his wife Michelle Gilliam, who was very beautiful, and Denny Doherty, who balanced things out, and Cass Elliott, who weighed almost twenty stone and, by the time they got to Dunhill, they’d worked out a sound all their own, light and spacious, full of intricate harmonies, with the Papas singing the basic melody lines down below and the Mamas soaring way high over the top. When they were bad, they sounded like a hip Ray Conniff. When they were good, though, which was often, they’d make the most musicianly noises in the whole of pop and they’d be exhilarating.
John Phillips wrote good and witty songs for them, commercial songs, but their strongest selling-point was Mama Cass, who was maybe a gimmick, agreed, but who was also splendid, huge and tough and very funny she was, and she developed into a true heroine. She posed nude for Cheetah magazine. She was a big old girl, she had fun and she signalled something nice about pop, just the fact that someone that fat could now make it.
The only trouble was, the Mamas and the Papas got bored. They’d had some very big hits, California Dreaming and Monday Monday and Dedicated To The One I Love, but then they ran out of energy, stopped touring and they stayed home in Hollywood, they hung out and made a few records and did nothing in particular. In the end, they broke up. Mama Cass went solo and did a disastrous gig in Las Vegas cabaret. The others marked time.
The Byrds, the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Mamas and the Papas - the three best and most successful of the folk/rock groups and, all of them, they blew it. The basic reason was, they weren’t equipped for pop, they weren’t mean or hungry enough. They enjoyed their music and they enjoyed their money but they weren’t obsessive. They liked gigging in some small club on Bleeker, all high and surrounded by their friends, but when it came to ninety-day barnstormers and Greyhounds and teenybop one-nighters in Columbus, Ohio, they lost interest fast. Having got famous and fat, they’d run short on need.
The only other folk/rock figures that mattered much were Simon and Garfunkel.
Paul Simon was a small, serious, fuzzy-haired man who came out of a straight folk background and wrote songs about loneliness - The Sound of Silence, Richard Cory, Homeward Bound, Mrs Robinson.
Melodically, his songs were most attractive, all tenderness and regret and gentle irony, wistful, and he sold albums by the truckload, he worked his way up steady until, by 1968, he’d become one of the heaviest sellers anywhere in pop.
What’s more, there were critics who thought that he was a major talent, a roadrunner second only to Dylan. Myself, I couldn’t see it but then his talents mostly fell across my blind-spots, softness and tenderness, wistful ironies.
Under pressure, I liked Fakin It and Mrs Robinson but that was just about my limit, I flagged on At The Zoo and bombed out entirely on Scarborough Fair. Still, that was most likely my fault, not Simon’s.
So what, after all, about folk/rock?
On the whole, considering how much talent went into it, its results were less than sensational and its final importance probably wasn’t so much in its own achievement as in its effects on pop in general.
One of these effects, obviously, was that it brought through lyrics. Another was that it canonized drugs.
Of course, in popular legend, all jazzmen had been dope- fiends for years and part of that reputation had carried over into pop but, in reality, most of the fifties rockers had much preferred alcohol and, even in the early sixties, when groups had begun to use pills and maybe a little grass on the side, nobody had got very much excited.
Folk took it more seriously. The Byrds’ Mr Tambourine Man became the first ever drug hit, and from there on in grass grew into one of the major pop obsessions, a symbol of everything that separates hip from square. It stopped being just something that you smoked and was made mystical, was turned into a full-scale religion.
As for folk/rock itself, the style passed, as it was bound to do: it was too soft, too subtle to hold the attention of a mass teen audience for long and pop resolved back into hardrock again. But the motivation that produced folk/rock survived, the urge towards a pop that would be uncomputerized and unsweetened, that would be personal and halfway honest, and this took hold and built, and finally exploded with the Love Crowd.
22 The Monkees (page 214)
While folk/rock was unfolding on the intellectual front, mainline American pop ran on exactly the same as always. It was almost a separate industry, mindless and changeless, eternally wrapped in a vacuum of non-singers and non-songs. Highschool lived on.
Ten years after Elvis, the charts were still filled by fantasies of heartbreak and bliss, moonlight and hearts and roses. New singers came up and sounded like the old ones. Businessmen hyped, disc jockeys spieled, pluggers plugged. Everyone had their private gimmick. Everything was always new, always old.
The only thing that had changed was that the business had become more streamlined as it went along. In the middle sixties, there was none of the knockabout farce that had brightened the fifties. Instead, pop had become safe and solid, very dull. All the time, it kept getting more computerized and everyone just methodically mopped up: earn, baby, earn.
In this move towards machine-pop, the Monkees were in a whole class by themselves.
What happened was that a group of Californian businessmen set up a TV series about a pop group, 1966. They didn’t want to use any established group, they wanted no possible hassles, and they decided to create a phenomenon out of nowhere. Accordingly, they advertised for young men.
Several hundred youths applied. They were interviewed one by one. Gradually they were all discarded until only four remained - Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz - and these four were chosen for their faces, for their ability to project, for the balance of their personalities. They were then called the Monkees.
Straightaway, they bore a strong resemblance to the Beatles: one of them was baby-faced and motherable (Davy Jones/Paul McCartney), one was big and domineering (Mickey Dolenz/John Lennon), a third was lost-looking (Peter Tork/ Ringo), and the last was withdrawn, serious, the straight man (Mike Nesmith/George Harrison).
Both Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz had been child-actors and, later, had made records, not successfully. Mike Nesmith came from Texas and was married. Peter Tork had sung folk in Greenwich Village. None of them was exceptionally intelligent, exceptionally talented or even beautiful. All you could say was, they were very young.
Anyhow, they appeared in their TV series and, again, they seemed very much like the Beatles. In general, their film format was on the same lines as Hard Day s Night - speeded-up chase sequences, much jump-cutting, a recurrent harking-back to the Marx Brothers and silent comedy.
The major difference was only that the Monkees were aimed at a more infant public, pre-teens, six to ten. There was a lot of dressing up and falling down, a lot of bangs and face-pulling and custard pies. Everything was kept dead simple, jokes and music and characters alike. If anything needed thinking about, it was left out.
At the beginning, the Monkees didn’t play on their records. It didn’t matter - their sponsors hired the best writers, arrangers and producers available and the Monkees themselves were hardly relevant. No matter what, they couldn’t fail: they had a weekly TV show, beamed all across America, and they had great armies of publicists, hyping and hustling them at all times. They had money behind them, talent and ambition and influence all forcing them upwards. Themselves, they only had to stand there and smile.
So they took off, they duly turned into an international industry, and they paid their investors back in full, they wound up making a big profit for them.
In the end, they played a few concerts. They even wrote songs. As it happened, they turned out to be not untalented after all.
But the point was, their talent was incidental. Even if they’d been tone deaf, they’d still have made it, they’d have worked out exactly the same. Simply, there was no way they could lose.
So the obvious question is, just how computerized can pop become ? The simple answer is, very.
Always, it depends on exposure. If you have the basic equipment, meaning that you look good and you can talk and you don’t pick your nose in public, if you are then hyped into something like your own TV show, you can hardly miss. If, on top of that, you’re given a sustained press build-up and you don’t make dumb records, you’re foolproof.
(Mind you, all this only holds good in the teenybop belt. With a more sophisticated market, too much blatant hype can be fatal.
There is, for instance, the case of Moby Grape, an American group, approximately avant garde, who were given a 200,000-dollar build-up by their record company, Columbia. This involved all the standard stunts, posters and badges and brochures, blanket advertising in Cashbox and Billboard, plus no less than six singles issued simultaneously. And what happened? Exactly nothing: the progressive pop audience was far too hip to get bought by such crude ballyhoo and they rejected the whole package.
hi any case, there’s a persistent snobbery running right through the underground, a feeling that anything in the charts must automatically be a sell-out and therefore, by coming on so strong, Columbia were jumping the fastest way down the mineshaft.
The moral of this sad fable is only that, like any other sales technique, pop hype has to be applied with common-sense. It’s not at all true that the underground can’t possibly be steamrollered - Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly and, as far as I’m concerned, the Doors are all good examples of bullshit at work - but it docs take a certain subtlety. Where the way to break the bubblegum market is simply to shout, to be louder and flasher and more vulgar than the competition, the avant garde has to be breached by stealth, by intellectual flattery, by the suggestion that only the very finest minds could possibly understand the product offered. On that basis, though, the intelligentsia is maybe even more gullible than the kids.
Incidentally, while fm on the subject, Moby Grape did finally make it - not big, but adequate. They went away and, a year later, came back with a music of their own, strong enough to cancel out Columbia’s blag. Altogether, they’ve been quite an ironic saga.)
In all hype, TV is crucial. Newspaper publicity and advertising are mly so much flavouring. But when you get on that box, you’re at the nitty-gritty.
In any case, it’s much simpler in America than it is over here. In England, pop TV and/or radio hardly exist and what there is happens to be Government-sponsored, just about incorruptible.
In the States, however, pop is run on a sensible commercial basis and payola has been properly formalized. Over there, any businessman that comes along with enough money to win himself air-space, plus the instinct to hire the right record- makers, is going to clean up. All he has to do is to find a face.
That’s hardly sinful, that’s only what happens in any industry. At any rate, that’s the direction that all commercial pop must increasingly take. Inevitably, it’s going to get more standardized, more scientific and more dreary all the time. It’s going to stop being so open to passionate kids with hit songs in their satchels, to Phil Spectors and Andrew Oldhams, and it’s going to be bossed by a few big organizations.
These organizations will hardly be the major record companies that exist already, EMI and Decca and so forth. Instead, they’ll be whole new set-ups, combining management and agency and records into one huge complex. There may be half a dozen of them and, between them, they’ll have everything neatly tied up.
In this way, pop will become an industry like any other. Experiments will be left to a small avant garde, way out on the left, very solemn and romantic, and the bubblegum business in general will regard this avant garde with benevolence, will steal its best ideas and talents, but will otherwise ignore it.
23 Love (page 218)
In America, acid really mattered.
Over here, it never got much beyond being a one-shot curiosity and only a few thousand people ever used it. It was a status symbol, certainly, but it moved in very limited circles and it wasn’t believed in as magic. So Paul McCartney might trip out and then announce that he’d been brought closer to God by his experiences but, when you talked to someone less eminent, some dumb post- Mod sitting on his scooter, he’d never used it. Pills and pot, he knew them well. Acid was another league, though, and everyone ran scared.A
In the States, it was all different, LSD was taken almost for granted. If you went there and moved through any kind of hip circle at all, acid turned up most everywhere. You’d meet sweet little sixteen, some small drop-out, and she was already bored by the whole pitch. She scorned one-time users as amateurs.
Beyond that, it was a cause. In the home of Dr Timothy Leary, it became an organized religion and, even at less solemn levels, it was talked about as the cure of all trouble, the road to true nirvana. Users talked low and spoke of it in tones of mystic awe. They stared through the space above your head and you’d guess they were watching infinity.
Inevitably, you felt superior. After acid, you walked around bulging with your new perceptions and you thought you’d been some place nobody else had ever seen. You knew all kinds of secret answers and you were smug, you couldn’t help it.
In this way, acid formed its own aristocracy and pop was part of it, pop was its mouthpiece. Not all of pop, of course. Just the underground.
The underground was anything experimental, anything outside the run of the industry, and it took in not only pop but newspapers, painting, poetry, antiestablishment expression of any kind. It was all very much in the tradition of fifties Beat (the Beatniks) but, being laced with superpop, it reached an infinitely bigger public than Beat had ever done.
Its father figure was Allen Ginsberg, the poet. Ten years back, in poems like Howl and America, he’d already been peddling what amounted to hippie philosophies and his messages still applied. Big-bearded and benevolent and exhibitionist, he was a bit of a joke but a good one and he’d influenced Dylan, he influenced most everyone.
Just as Beat had done in the late fifties, the underground came on strongest in
California, where people are rich enough and time is relaxed enough and the weather is warm enough for such things to flourish. Through the early sixties, hip centres formed and grew across the state, notably in Venice, near Los Angeles, and in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury.
Always, they looked the same - streets full of sandals, cockroach apartments decorated with posters, overflowing trashcans, the smell of socks and stale hashish, cracks in the walls, beards. Generation to generation, nothing changes in Bohemia. The heroes shift, that’s all. Charlie Parker and Jack Kerouac, they gave way to Dylan and Kahlil Gibran and Muhammed AN. Underneath, the tug of romantic squalor still stays the same.
At first, pop didn’t come into this much - the staple diet was modern jazz and, later, folk. But after Dylan hired his rock ’n’ roll band, pop suddenly became OK and the underground was swamped by groups, ugly bastards with beards and matted hair and intense feet, who made big dirty noises and screamed obscenities at Mister America as he passed.
Specifically underground clubs started up, the best of them being the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, and they weren’t like other dancehalls, the audiences didn’t just drift and shuffle and be bored, they really heard the music. Very often, there’d be a genuine involvement between the crowd and the band, a sudden meshing, and straight nights would ensue. Even now, any group that played the Fillmore at its peak, 1966, will say it was the best gig they ever did.
The common denominator was acid, that was the fraternity pin, and so the term acid/rock came into use, a fairly meaningless label that got applied to any underground group whatever, no matter what its style. The other favourite word was psychedelic.
In the dictionary, psychedelic means mind-expansion but, in practice, out in California, it only meant faking up an acid trip. Instead of just standing up there and strumming, groups took to surrounding themselves with flashing lights, back- projected films, pre-recorded tapes, freak dancers, plus anything else they could think of, and the idea was that, faced by all this, you’d be hit by a total experience, a simultaneous flowering of all your senses and you’d fly.
You didn’t, of course. Instead, you watched the legs of the sexy go-go dancers and wound up with a headache. It wasn’t a bad idea, though - at least, it distracted from that fixed boredom of staring at a group staring back at you.
Usually, the acid/rock groups didn’t come up with monster singles but they sold a lot of albums and they earned good gig fees. Who were they ? Jefferson Airplane, Love, the Doors, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, Moby Grape, the Grateful Dead. Better, Country Joe and the Fish. Even better still, Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company. And then, not only in California but back in the East as well, the Fugs and Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground, quite a lot of music.
Commercially, the biggest of all these was the Doors, out of Los Angeles, who turned around Jim Morrison, the wildest white American act since Elvis itself.
He was tall and smooth and lean, quite innocent-looking, and he didn’t smile. Staring at his photograph, you’d have thought he was gentle, a bit melancholy. A nice man.
Then he’d come out on stage and he wasn’t a nice man, after all, he was a phantom. He had black leather pants so tight that his machine showed through and he was tortured, he looked as if his mind had gone away to lunch. He writhed, reeled, staggered. He groped for the mike like some blind man and his face dissolved into rage and fear. Exactly, he looked like a man on a bad trip, driven insane by nightmares, by things he couldn’t understand. First he pleaded and then he’d be obscene and then he collapsed and then he pleaded again. He stammered, stumbled, couldn’t find words. In turn, he was sadist and masochist. He blurred, his face turned into jelly. In the end, he was a psychopath: ‘Father? Yes, son? I want to kill you. Mother, I want to . .. Aaaaaaauuuugghh.’
You guessed it, he was an exhibitionist. Off-stage, he was surrounded by myths and legends, the heroic acts of Jim Morrison, all about how he was a superman and how he acted tough with the groupies that hung around. So his stage was no uncontrollable fit - it was all theatrical, rehearsed, perfectly calculated, and it became a ritual, the bit when he suddenly collapsed, jackknifed as if he’d been kicked in the balls, the bit when he, umm, accidentally fell off the stage. Nothing’s wrong with that, of course, it’s all showbiz anyhow, and he burned you just the same.
Musically, though, he was no great singer and the Doors were no great group - they made a couple of strong hardrock singles, they used some potent riffs, they were strictly competent but, when you got inside their album, their range was minimal and some of Morrison’s more poetical songs were dire.
Really, they were another case of a solid rock band, sexy but unclever, being ruined by their own compulsion to get into Art. Gradually, their songs became more and more lumbering, Morrison’s stage shows more and more blatant and, in the end, he exposed himself during a concert at Miami Beach. Instead of making him heroic, as might have been expected, this backfired on him. Glutted with excess, everyone yawned and, from having been a real challenge to the Rolling Stones, the Doors went back fast. Apart from periodic reports of Morrison getting thrown out of aeroplanes or nightclubs for drunkenness, they have made little splash since.
A bit more to the point was Janis Joplin, who shared roughly the same lifestyle as Morrison but was partly excused by her much larger talents. First she sang with a San Francisco group called Big Brother and the Holding Company, then went solo and, potentially, she was a fine white blues singer.
At her best, she was quite something. She came from Port Arthur, Texas, and looked like a big tough woman. On stage, she drank straight from the bottle and stomped, did the grind. She cussed a lot and her voice was raucous, full of strength and guts. Sometimes she sounded brutal and commanding, sometimes hurt, and she would pick her songs up to annihilate them, leave them crippled ever after. Face all twisted and sweating, she was so intense that she might burn you and, when she was good, you wanted to protect her forever.
She wasn’t always good. There were many times when she was drunk or drugged and became hopelessly self-indulgent, wrecking each number with emotional over-kill, screeching and hollering with no sense of pacing or dynamics. Then she was boring.
She died of a drug overdose, towards the end of 1970. She was still in her twenties but her last few years had been increasingly wasteful. Nevertheless, she became a great cult-heroine and her death turned her into a religion, whose adherents would hear no criticism at any level. It was a pity, because such exaggerations obscured her real quality. Beneath her assumed cynicism, she’d had an odd tenderness and charm and, when she allowed this to show, her work had had unusual power.
Certainly, she was the most intriguing figure to emerge from the American underground; her only rival in this was Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention.
Zappa was an adman and he came through in 1966, a skinny man with a long nose, crow’s-nest hair, a droopy moustache and a small dagger beard. By any standards, he was quite outstandingly ugly but the Mothers, his group, left him looking like Robert Goulet. Bearded and gross and filthy, entirely obscene, they looked like the stock New Yorker cartoon of beatniks brought to life.
They were freaks. They were meant to be. They were playing the same old game again, epater le bourgeoisie, but this time around it wasn’t called Dada or Existentialism or Beat, it was Freak-Out.
‘On a personal level,’ wrote Zappa in what should have been a put-on but wasn’t, ‘Freaking out is a process whereby an individual casts off outmoded and restricted standards of thinking, dress and social etiquette in order to express CREATIVELY his relationship to his immediate environment and the social structure as a whole.’
To this end, he assembled his Mother freaks and loosed them. On their first album, cutting a track called The Return of The Son of Monster Magnet, he went into the studio with a small army of auxiliaries and the whole lot of them banged, strummed, pounded and thrashed any musical instrument they could lay hands on, the total effect being a bit like a small army banging, strumming, pounding and thrashing any musical instrument they could lay hands on. It worked, what’s more. It made you wish you’d been in there yourself, banging and thrashing with the rest of them, and so it carried a sense of real release, exorcism.
Still, there was more to Zappa than knockabout - his albums were extended post-Dada montages, visions of adman insanity and, under all the pantomime, they were really very ambitious.
In them, he’d take the direst cliches of vaudeville, showbiz and highschool, he’d link them with small declamatory non-tunes of his own and he’d weld the whole thing into a series of satiric pop operettas, surreal American nightmares. Probably, it was the most self-conscious and articulate use that pop had ever been put to and sometimes he missed his target completely, sometimes he was only verbose and self-indulgent but sometimes he was funny, sharp, true.
In one album, he’d be smug and imaginative and flabby, pretentious and infuriating and hilarious. Mostly, he was a bore but, every so often, when he forgot to be solemn, he’d pull out something good and he was never quite dismissable. If he was draggy, that was almost the point.
Of the other West Coast groups, my own favourites were Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe and the Fish.
Jefferson Airplane had a pretty girl singer called Grace Slick with a foghorn voice and she wrote some potent, vengeful sounding songs. White Rabbit and Two Heads. White Rabbit, in fact, a dope-orientated version of Alice in Wonderland, was a small classic and it remains by far the best thing they’ve done. For the rest, when Grace Slick steps back and the rest of the group take over, they’re musical but they’re cluttered and self-conscious, badly short of punch. They sell a lot of records. They aren’t enjoyed by me.
As for the Fish, Country Joe McDonald is a roughneck with a bashed-in face and, at times, he’s comical. Stuff like I’m Fixing to Die Rag and his James Brown riff, they’re the only true belly laughs in the whole of contemporary rock and, as such, are to be treasured. The only trouble is, Country Joe isn’t all laughs, he has his poetical side as well and that’s not so hot, that’s downright dire. With all of these groups, it’s the same endless hang-up: when they stomp they’re fine and, when they turn profound, they’re a pain in the arse.
Beyond all these there have been other good groups, notably Bob Dylan’s one-time backing group, the Band. Still and all, the American bands as a whole have been disappointing - there’s been far too little excitement and it’s all been taken with absurd intensity, it has almost stopped being fun. The new breed of American fans, post-Beatles and post-Dylan, weaned on folk and social consciousness, they sit and get stoned with the lights off, they write treatises and split pedantics, just like jazz fans and, mostly, they hardly remember Fats Domino’s name, they think him trivial, and any suggestion that rock is a joke is greeted in shocked silence.
Anyhow, going back to the story, the underground kept expanding, its followers kept increasing and, somewhere along the line, they got called hippies and the name stuck.
In Haight Ashbury, 1966, when the word was still new, they formed a real community, they forgot possessions and shared most everything they had. The way they saw it, they were in at the birth of a whole new society, a format to save the world, and the word they used was Love.
The rules were, you had to love everyone and everything. You had to turn your back on the bitch goddess, on materialism and war and all that stuff, and you had to get way back to the roots again, you had to rediscover the basic simplicities.
This was nothing new in itself, of course, it was the oldest chestnut imaginable. What was a bit different, though, was that something actually got done. This time, it wasn’t just some poet preaching away in the woods, it was people, several thousands of them.
What’s more it caught, it sparked similar communities all across the country. Hashbury got famous, was much glorified. Journalists moved in and started to publicize it. So highschool kids heard about it then, the way that its streets were paved with pot, and they came down from suburbia for their vacations. And tourists came with cameras to watch the weirdies. Within a few months, the whole thing had become a circus. The original hippies had all escaped and what remained was an acidburger nightmare. The streets were filled with beggars and pushers and pubertal panhandlers. Everything was filthy, decaying, rat-infested. Instant freaks sat on the sidewalks, munching hash sandwich, and the tourists took hippie-snaps.
Scott McKenzie, a folksinger straight out of a toothpaste ad, sang a song called San Francisco (Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair) and it was a worldwide smash. In England, the Flowerpot Men did Let's Go To San Francisco. Everyone loved everyone else, everyone got rich. George Harrison visited Hashbury itself. Eric Burdon blessed us all.
And what remained of the original concept, the first flush of innocence? Hardly anything.
All over the world, kids walked around in rainbow robes and wore beads, bells, flowers in their hair, but it was all down to play-acting now, it was only a new toy, something on the level of Mods and Rockers.
It wasn’t just confined to kids either, the game spread through to young white liberals everywhere, even to academics and journalists and hip admen. So all right, they didn’t stretch to robes but they smoked pot and bought Sergeant Pepper and used words like groovy, they filled their houses with joss sticks. They were flirting with bohemia, that’s all. So much for the new society - it was summer and everyone had fun.
The high point of the whole junket was the Monterey International Pop Festival, June 1967, which ran right through a weekend and showcased almost the entire range of progressive pop. Eric Burdon and Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, the Who, the Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, and even people like Otis Redding and Ravi Shankar.
Maybe seventy thousand people went to it, the entire hippie population of California, and they descended on Monterey like some obscene plague. The city was scared out of its wits, of course, but it didn’t have to be, the love crowd was perfect. It slept in the open and sang songs and got itself high. It broke no windows, caused no riots. Everyone loved everyone. The groups played for free, the music was endless and sometimes marvellous. Everyone was flying, half on pot and half on sheer idealism, and even the people who’d come to put it down, pressmen and such, were caught and began to believe. By the end of three days, the police themselves wore flowers.
Inevitably, as soon as it was over and everyone had gone home again, Hippie began to decline. Monterey had been wonderful, yes, but then the people went back to their jobs and their lives, their sadder realities, and everything seemed anti-climactic. Other attempts to catch the same excitement never quite worked. Always, the first time is the only time. And when autumn came and the sun went in, the whole thing fell apart. In retrospect, Monterey had been the beginning and the end at once.
After this, the next step was transcendental meditation, which I covered in my chapter on the Beatles, a craze that blossomed one day after the Beatles took it up and dropped dead exacdy one day after they abandoned it again.
While it lasted, though, it was big: meditation centres sprang up all over America and any rock musician that didn’t practise it got branded as bubblegum. The climax came when the Beach Boys did a concert tour with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an act of faith that was both the high point and the destruction of meditation as a cult, because most of the gigs were half-empty and even the people who turned up walked out in droves as soon as the Maharishi appeared. It was soon after this that the Beatles recanted, much to the general relief, and everyone went back to getting happily stoned again.
In any case, the whole meditation bit had been very much a legacy from the LSD period - pop had stuffed itself so full of acid that it addled its mind, it went light-headed and got itself mixed up in mysticisms and whimsicalities that it would normally have dismissed with a few fast farts. After a few months, when the effect of acid wore thin, sanity returned and everyone went back to the discotheques.
So the question remains, what next? Astrology? Roman Catholicism? Alcohol? The answer is, all of them and none of them - the fashions change maybe three times a year and they’re hardly relevant, they’re all jokes anyway. Only the underlying resdessness remains and is real.
And it was this resdessness, this basic hunger for solutions, that gave rise to acid-rock, love-rock and meditation, and that’s going to give rise to the next move. And whatever that next move may be, it’s going to be expressed through rock, because pop is the new American religion, it’s the major rallying-cry and nothing is too hefty or too dumb to be put aboard it.
Just possibly, in fact, rock is going to be a real political factor in America over these next years. After all maybe one in three American young do passionately believe in tolerance, gentleness and peace and, for almost all of them, pop is their platform. It won’t last, of course: within a decade, the intensity will have gone and this generation will sink into the same uneasy apathy as any other. In the meantime, though, rock may count.